Belle Cora Review

It's an old story about the oldest profession. The hooker with the heart of gold, her rise and fall, living by her wits and somehow rising above her circumstances to make the most of her life of moral ruin. What makes Belle Cora: A Novel by Phillip Margulies so special is the way it's done this time.

Belle Cora is written as a memoir of an elderly woman recounting her days as a high class prostitute and madam in 19th century New York and then San Francisco. She starts with the aftermath of the San Franciso fire of 1906, and even before she starts, there is a "foreward" that introduces this conceit. The foreward and the "Author's Introduction" give away quite a few clues as to what will happen in the book, and this clever bit of foreshadowing is your first hint at Margulies's wit in writing this novel.

Belle is the daughter of a rich family who, through a series of unfortunate events, was sent her to live with poor country relatives at the age of nine. A series of even more unfortunate events lead her to become a prostitute as a teenager and a madam before she is even 21. She plies her trade in New York before moving to San Francisco ... but I will stop there. I am not as masterful with foreshadowing as the author, and don't want to give anything away.

As convincing as Belle's "memoir" is, the foreword also mentioned that her family fought over the publication of the memoir and suggested she might be insane. So it's interesting to think about that as you read the book. Is she telling a well-hidden true story, or was she a precursor to reality TV stars, embellishing her life story as an old woman just to stir things up?

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